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Winter Thorns of Highgarden

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They meet before the midday sun when a cadre of noble visitors from the North enter the Great Hall to negotiate a trade deal. Willas is barely two-and-twenty, as yet unwed, the promised Heir of Highgarden and better known as the Fat Flower’s crippled son. She is the infamous single stain on the Lord Paramount of the North’s honor: four-and-ten and arguably more beautiful than any Stark had the right to be, even her sainted aunt. Lyarra is kept close to her father’s side and he thinks this to be more sensible precaution than sign of preference. How does the Lady Stark rage that his bastard would step out of the bard’s songs?

 

Lyarra is dark of hair and pale of skin and after that, all surface resemblance to Lord Stark ends. Her pink bowed lips, her arched brows, her aquiline nose and heavy-lidded violet gaze, all hint at the ethereal beauty of Valyria, of Targaryens and Velaryons and Daynes. It is the last that he attributes them to; House Dayne and Lady Ashara in particular had created his bewitching child.

 

Even Lord Mace is struck silent for a moment before his wits regain him and he blusters about unexpected surprises and time consuming negotiations and such. His Grandmother intervenes before the boundaries of good taste can be crossed and welcomes them in. Petulantly, his father assigns the bastard to his care and Willas dryly offers his opening remarks.

 

He receives all the proper courtesies in return, the sweet tone belied by an unexpected, matter-of-fact handshake, before Lady Lyarra Snow ignores him at the earliest convenience of society. They eat their meals in near silence and he returns to his contented observation of the table. Her eyes have skipped the high table entirely to survey the one directly below: minor nobles, important merchants, talented or lucky knights and Willas thinks that she could afford to skim more quickly.

 

‘Clever bastard.’ His conclusion is decidedly neutral and bordering on amused when Willas dismisses her from his thoughts and returns to his smoked fish.

 

Lady Snow remains absent until he is walking by the sparring yard of Highgarden. It is massive, in relation to a family that boasts little martial prowess, but she is present near the tidy corner of his path. Willas lingers in the shadows at the sight of a noblewoman, bastard or not, dressed in trousers and tunics that draw attention to her more womanly assets. The knights taunting the Tarly heir seem to appreciate the sight as well, less so when the lithe form springs forward with a wooden sword.

 

It appears to be a fight for Samwell Tarly’s honor and Lyarra performs admirably for one her own age. Ducking, weaving, near dancing around the men in an unorthodox fighting style that befits her agility, dexterity and speed but lacks endurance to be truly effective. Tarly suddenly regains a smidgen of courage near the end to sobbingly attack one man when his back is turned. It ends in a tie but an apology is offered and Lyarra dismisses the others to grin brightly at the crying Tarly boy.

 

Garlan would have struck at the more vulnerable areas around the neck and collar. Though what she lacks in viciousness could be countered by sheer enthusiasm.’ Willas reconsiders the scene as he limps back to his office. ‘ Not a poor choice in targets.

 

In the next meal, Lyarra eschews the high table for the one directly below. She sits beside the daughter of a Redwyne sworn knight but focuses her attention on Samwell the entire time. The boy practically blossoms under her attention, careful words and encouraging smiles drawing out some esoteric piece of knowledge or the other. Occasionally hands would brush during the meal but the boy, currently the recipient of many envious stares, seems entirely oblivious.

 

Willas rarely takes the same walk twice but he deliberately traces his steps the next day. They engage in a short conversation that leads to him siccing multiple guardsman on the bastard and the craven boy in an attempt to draw out Samwell’s courage. It is successful enough that Lady Snow ends her lesson early and declares that she will spend the remainder of her afternoon in the library.

 

Impetuously, he offers to escort her there. Willas is terribly amused by the three different men that wilt immediately thereafter.

 

“Thank you for your offer, my lord.” Lyarra’s response is distant. Her lips curl in momentary irritation over the exhausted and inattentive Samwell but soon an insincerely warm smile is present.

 

“Lord Tarly is a pious man,” he informs her. “You may be able to see Samwell in Sept services.”

 

Violet eyes pin him back. “You are very attentive to my presumed desires then, my lord.”

 

“It is merely a host’s duty to attend to his guest’s personal needs as presumed by their situation .”

 

Lady Lyarra neither stiffens on his arm nor quickens her pace to trouble him. He would have thought her ignorant if not for the tightening of the eyes, the brittleness of her smile. She releases his arm upon immediate entry to the library and heads towards the bookshelves in the Hour of the Wolf. Willas has work of his own to do but is intrigued enough to take a seat in the strategically placed sofas of the center dias. The library is divided into the twelve hours of the night and he sits by the Hour of the Eel.

 

It gives him a perfect view of the Hour of the Owl where Lady Lyarra slips out of moments later with a copy of the Seven Analects .

 

‘How utterly pleased she looks. ’ Willas inwardly chuckles, even with lips pursed and nose wrinkled in disgust, Lyarra Snow was lovely. ‘ At least she has the sense to pick her battles.

 

The Maester heads the expansive library but one of the two assistants in his employ receives Willas’ coin. He directs the man to take note of the bastard’s selections there and notify him afterward. An extra silver stag is slipped into his hand when he receives a list of titles as diverse as botanical poisons and shipwright lectures to musical compositions and Essos trade. More interesting is the secret of Lyarra Snow’s pocket money.

 

Willas hadn’t noticed it until she stood beside one of his Fossway cousins but Lyarra Snow, dressed in the simple yet well-woven dresses of a Northern noblewoman, lacked common maiden baubles. His first assumption would have been that she didn’t receive an allowance but Lord Stark appeared warm towards his bastard daughter. It made more sense to find that she poured any available gold into rolls upon rolls of parchment and local bookbinders. When she wasn’t attempting to marry above her station, Lady Lyarra was trying to copy down the entire Tyrell library.

 

Speaking of that romance…

 

“She may have to resort to something more direct soon,” Garlan remarked, discreetly watching the ‘accidental’ hand brushes and fluttering eyelashes of the dark-haired girl. The covertness wasn’t necessary really- more than one man seemed content to stare unabashedly at the young woman, Samwell Tarly not included. “Do you think he favors the stem before the petal?”

 

“I doubt it. He’s merely that untested to the womanly arts,” he answered.

 

“Shame for the beautiful lady then. Bored stiff from the minutiae of the Alchemy Guild without even a huntsman cloak for her troubles.”

 

Willas felt that his brother was incorrect on this account. As one unsuccessful dinner after another passed, Lyarra Snow’s tension drained with it. Her flirtations continued but they seemed to be an afterthought to sincere interest and genuine smiles in the two’s conversations. It shouldn't be a surprise; they were two odd ducks, the bastard and the coward, that shared a love for esoteric knowledge and forthright discussion. Friendship wasn’t the strangest conclusion.

 

The unvarnished reactions drew out greater beauty from the bastard though; Willas noted bubbly laughter, animated gestures, and a tendency to bounce on the heels of her feet. He caught her twisting a curl around one finger when arguing once and wondered whether he could draw the same impassioned defense of a subject out.

 

“Would you care to take a ride with me around the castle this afternoon?”

 

It didn’t please him that she was unable to refuse- by the dictates of their relative social positions and the rules of polite society. It took out the challenge of coaxing her onward that Willas suspected would amuse him. Nonetheless he could find amusement in drawing out that brief show of spirit.

 

She maintained more poise than most of his silly, trueborn cousins in accepting the offer. The smile offered could shred ice with its sharpness but he was a Tyrell, bred and born in the warmth of summer, and he would melt that harsh smile before it could cut flesh. Lady Lyarra returned a slim hand, as calloused as Garlan’s was, as calloused as Lord Tarly wished his son’s would be, to the crook of his elbow and he led her to the stables.

 

Willas silently appreciated that she took consideration of his preferred pace as well. It was kind.

 

She was kind. And ignorant, which drew a measure of pity from his breast. The Heir to Highgarden suspected that this sympathy would be returned with the same unimpressed banalities that he would have reacted to for his crippled leg and kept his face still.

 

“You have an unusual bridle, my lord.” Her first remark held an undercurrent of curiosity.

 

“I designed it to account for my physical disabilities.” He took the bridle off its peg, waved off one of the approaching stable boys and approached the horses.

 

“You designed this yourself?” However nonchalant she attempted to make her tone, the older man could hear the mild hitch of wonder present.

 

“I assure you that a cripple remains capable of such.” He neglected to inform her of the sixteen failures before a working prototype was made.

 

The rebuke added a fetching pink to her cheeks, followed by the impression of one who believed herself gainsaid on purpose. She refused to apologize and Willas decided it to be a compromise for he would certainly not offer one himself.

 

“You’re comfortable with the horses?” The ones here were specifically bred by him to be physically imposing and intimidatingly powerful but they fall obediently to her gentle hands. It unnerved him slightly for they didn’t even act this warmly towards the Stable Marshal.

 

“I assure you that a woman remains capable of such,” she snarked back. Immediately, her mind catches to the words flown out of her mouth and she flushes an even deeper red. It suffuses her face entirely, endearing and skittish, and drawing out the violet of her eyes.

 

She doesn’t apologize here either but it may be for the way his lips twitch in response. Willas offers her one of his best steeds in silence.

 

A smile now. “He has your colouring, my lord.”

 

“My sister named him Apple Cider for it.” There’s an unexpected gratification at the giggles unwittingly escaping her lips. The honey brown color of his coat does match Willas’ locks and to match the pair, he selects a steed with a coat of such dark brown that it appears black.

 

They’re well into a slow, meandering ride around the trails when Willas approaches the subject.

 

“His brother, Dickon, is favored by Lord Tarly to be the heir. It is expected that Samwell will take the Black.”

 

Lyarra is silent for so long that he expects her to disengage from the subject and then she speaks.

 

“I know. He told me,” she admitted quietly. “Tell me, was it obvious to everyone else?”

 

“No. Most would care to overlook a bastard and those who would not were otherwise engaged,” Willas said flatly. “Why did you continue then?”

 

“He became a friend,” Lyarra shrugged. “Unlike others who wouldn’t overlook a bastard, he kept his eyes up and his mind ready.”

 

There was a momentary silence. “Do you think me cruel for how I began the friendship?”

 

“Your marriage prospects are poor, even in the north. I admire you for attempting to elevate them.”

 

“It wouldn’t have been entirely mercenary,” she argued halfheartedly. “Samwell is a pleasant boy but he’s not particularly commanding of… well, anyone. I would have been a good wife for him. My education did include the particulars of running a household, even one of Winterfell’s size.”

 

“Have you considered the younger brother then?”

 

“The boorish warmonger? My opportunities are poor, not nonexistent.”

 

“Then you’re not as practical as you should be,” Willas responded frankly. “Beauty is fleeting and you must strike a match before that.”

 

“Yet you’re so charming that Highgarden’s wealth and splendor are entirely wasted on drawing a wife for you.” Lyarra’s heels pressed down and Apple Cider tensed. “I will see you at the castle, my lord!”

 

She loosened her grip and the horse leapt forward, breaking into a smooth gallop. Under no false notions of his own prowess, Willas admired the skilled horsemanship that led to Lady Lyarra racing the massive war steed forward. He patted the skittish Skyrunner in comfort and followed the path staidly.

 

What an exceptionally odd girl, Lyarra Snow was.

 

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